01 December 2015

Happy Murder. Happy Murder?

Many of those who read this blog are mystery writers of one subgenre or another. Most of the rest are mystery readers or people interested in crime. There are lots of theories as to why people read mysteries. One of the most popular is to see justice win in the end, which it often doesn’t in real life. Of course, this doesn’t apply to noir where almost everyone meets an unhappy end, but then there are exceptions to every rule.

I often wonder if there really is more crime today or if, because of the ubiquitous media, we just know about it. In the olden days if you lived in Los Angeles and a crime occurred in Atlanta it’s unlikely you heard about it unless it was the most sensational crime imaginable. But today with the 24 hour news cycle and competing media outlets looking to fill all that time we hear about every little pin prick. And the local news, at least here in LA, often leads with every drive-by, road rage incident and other crime they can find. After all if it bleeds, it leads.

But what’s a person to do in the middle of the day or the middle of the night when you’ve got that jones on for murder? Well, we here probably hope you’ll read one of our books (see end of this post). But what if you want the real thing? Well, let’s say the real thing once removed. You turn on the tube and look for the Murder Channel, I mean Discovery ID. Murder, Mayhem and Madness 24/7. Who could ask for more in 21st Century America?

A few years ago when my wife and I were watching TV and a commercial came on we’d flip to the Home and Garden Channel in the interim. (Yeah, I know.) Then we started flipping to various “murder shows” on the commercials. They hook you. You’d watch three minutes and you were in for the duration. They grab you the way a good novel does and, I hate to say it, maybe more so because they’re real. Real lives at stake in every episode and a new cliffhanging episode beginning at the top of the hour to give you your fix and keep you hooked.

I sometimes tell myself I watch these shows to get ideas, not only for overall plots, but for specifics of how to carry out crimes and “get away with them” in my stories. I lie. I watch because they hook me, like heroin does an addict. And like an addict I want more. I want to see what happens next, to try to figure out who really done it. Is it really the husband? He seems like the most likely suspect. Or is that too obvious? The red herring?

And I get annoyed when one show does the same story as another. I want fresh blood.
These shows are not just good for story ideas, but also as a fascinating look at society and human nature. It amazes me how little people will murder over, whether over a small financial amount or a perceived insult. It’s hard to understand how someone can do these things to another human being—even if the marriage is on the rocks or the person cheated you in business or fired you from your job—is it really worth it to do that? And how can you go to that extreme measure and be that cold blooded? Yeah, it’s worth ruining my life and going to jail for twenty years because I want to buy a new boat or car or XBox and need that life insurance money. Or I don’t want my boss to find out I embezzled money. And how many people choose murder as the way out of a bad, or even not so bad, marriage, because they want money, freedom or are having an affair or whatever? Haven’t they heard of divorce? Yeah, there’s alimony and all that, but it’s better than sharing a 6’ X 8’ cell with Bubba.

I have to admit watching these shows makes me a little insecure sometimes. So I turn to my wife and
say, “Just divorce me, don’t kill me.” If she asks to up my life insurance or gives me a sweet green drink that she says is Kool Aid, but there’s an empty anti-freeze container in the trash, I know I’m in trouble.

And, of course, almost always, the person murdered is the most wonderful, sweetest, kindest and most beautiful person in the world, male or female. It’s pretty rare that someone will come out and say that John Doe was a bastard and deserved to die. But I have to admit I do wonder sometimes if the families of the deceased are upset when the actors portraying their loved ones are not as attractive as the real people...

There are shows for every taste and every location, from Evil Kin and Momsters: When Moms Go
Bad (w/ a smiling Roseanne Barr...) to Swamp Murders and neighbors from hell on The Nightmare Next Door, which sounds like a bad horror movie title, but these are real horrors. There is one show that I don’t like as much as some of the others, Disappeared. And the reason is because there is often no resolution. People disappear, never to be heard from again and it leaves one, at least this one, with an unsatisfying feeling. Another show that I don’t watch much, if I remember the name, is Twisted. It’s just too twisted.

Obviously I’m not the only person that likes these shows as evidenced by the multitude of them popping up all the time (see list below). People are fascinated by murder. And maybe this is part of why murder mysteries and crime novels are so popular. We want to understand—even as we are repelled by the idea. And if I’ve offended anyone with my attempts at black humor in this piece I’m sorry. Gallows humor is the only way I know to handle these things.

Some Discovery ID Titles – Let the titles do the talking:
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
Alaska: Ice Cold Killers'"
American Occult
A Crime to Remember
A Stranger In My Home
Bad Teachers
Beauty Queen Murders
Behind Mansion Walls (currently airing under reruns)
Blood, Lies, and Alibis
Blood Relatives
Breaking Point
Catch My Killer
Cause of Death
Cold Blood
Cry Wolfe
Cuff Me If You Can
Dangerous Persuasions
Dateline on ID
Dates From Hell
Dark Minds
Deadline: Crime With Tamron Hall
Dead of Night
Deadly Affairs
Deadly Devotion
Deadly Sins
Deadly Women
Death By Gossip with Wendy Williams
Did He Do It?
Do Not Disturb: Hotel Horrors
Evil Twins
Evil, I
Evil Kin
Facing Evil with Candice DeLong
Fatal Encounters
Fatal Vows
FBI: Criminal Pursuit
Fear Thy Neighbor
Frenemies: Loyalty Turned Lethal
Happily Never After
Handsome Devils
Hate In America
Hell House
Homicide Hunter
House of Horrors: Kidnapped
How (Not) To Kill Your Husband
I (Almost) Got Away With It
I'd Kill for You
In the Line of Fire
Indecent Proposal
Injustice Files
Inspire a Difference
Karma's a B*tch!
Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen
Last Seen Alive
Let's Kill Mom
Momsters: When Moms Go Bad
Most Evil
Most Infamous
Most Likely To...
Motives & Murders
Murder Book
Murder Comes to Town
Murder in Paradise
My Dirty Little Secret
My Strange Criminal Addiction
Nightmare Next Door
Nowhere to Hide
Obsession: Dark Desires
On the Case with Paula Zahn
On Death Row
Over My Dead Body
Poisoned Passions
Pretty Dangerous
Pretty Bad Girls
Scorned: Love Kills
Secret Lives of Stepford Wives
See No Evil
Serial Thriller: Angel of Decay
Serial Thriller: The Chameleon
Sex Sent Me to the Slammer
Sins and Secrets
Southern Fried Homicide
Stalked: Someone's Watching
Stolen Voices, Buried Secrets
Surviving Evil
Swamp Murders
The Devil You Know
The Killing Hour
The Mind of a Murderer
The Perfect Murder
The Worst Thing I Ever Did
True Crime with Aphrodite Jones
True Nightmares
Twisted Tales of 9 to 5
Untouchable: Power Corrupts
Unusual Suspects
Vanity Fair Confidential
Very Bad Men
Web of Lies
Wives with Knives
Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?
Who the (Bleep)...
The Will
Wicked Attraction
Women in Prison
Young, Hot & Crooked
Your Worst Nightmare
But never fear, if you’ve already seen everything on Discovery ID there’s several other channels that play murder shows off and on all day long, but of course only Discovery ID will serve your 24 hour jones.

*** *** ***

And now for the usual BSP stuff:

Down and Out Books is putting a whole bunch of great books on sale for 99¢ for the next two weeks, including Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, with mystery stories from such luminaries as 4 Time Edgar Winner and Co-Creator of “Columbo,” William Link • Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini • Scribner Crime Novel Winner William G. Tapply • Shamus Winner Paul D. Marks • EQMM Readers Award Winner Bob Levinson • Al Blanchard Award Winner James Shannon • Derringer Award Winner Stephen D. Rogers • Sherlock Holmes Bowl Winner Andrew McAleer and other poisoned-pen professionals like Judy Travis Copek • Sheila Lowe • Gayle Bartos-Pool • Thomas Donahue

And my new noir-thriller Vortex is also on sale in e-form for 99¢.

“…a nonstop staccato action noir… Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery… but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.” 

—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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  1. >… the Murder Channel…

    Too funny and too true, Paul.

    I use the same excuse you do, especially with 48 Hours and Forensic Files. Now you've striped away my excuse for ‘discovering’ new things, you know, sort of like watching National Geographic channel (recently purchased by Rupert Murdoch, whom some would cheerfully murder).

    >We want to understand—even as we are repelled by the idea.


    And let’s not forget Barb Goffman who has first-hand experience in these things.

  2. Very best of luck with Vortex.
    I still miss Unsolved Mysteries that gave me the plot for at least one novel

  3. Sorry for torpedoing away your excuse, Leigh ;) . And maybe Barb will chime in with her first-hand knowledge.

    Thanks, Janice. And I believe Unsolved Mysteries is on in reruns, but I can’t remember what channel. I know I’ve seen while surfing the guide though.

  4. I do have firsthand knowledge, having worked as a narrator in one of these types of shows: For Her Man -- a docudrama of cases in which women have done terrible things for the men in their life. In the episode I worked on, a woman who worked in a massage parlor that offered ... other services got fired. She lived with a guy who didn't contribute to the family income, and they were about to get evicted. He persuaded her to get revenge on her old company by robbing the place, thinking it would be an easy score because the owner would never call the cops. And as you can imagine, things didn't go as planned. Think guns, deaths, prison.

    It's interesting to think about cases like this because it helps understand the mindset that can prompt a person to do terrible things. I once talked with a friend about it--how you can get pushed to do things you might think you'd never do. Ask a friend on a normal day if he'd ever kill someone. Let's hope the answer would be no. But then tell him he's a single parent and his child gets sick and needs an operation but he can't afford the pre-pay deductible, and the guy realizes he could skim a little from work to make it happen, and he'll pay it back before anyone realizes. So he does. And then his kid needs another operation and another and more money is stolen and he's been unable to pay it back and suddenly he's a big-time embezzler. And someone finds out and threatens to tell, which will leave his sick child alone, thrust into foster care, at the mercy of who knows what. And suddenly this guy who could never kill anyone might indeed kill someone.

    That all said, I don't read any true crime and I don't watch much of it. It's fun reading about fictional crime. Real crime leaves me cold. Just yesterday I read an article about a guy who apparently was trying to break into a home by climbing down the chimney and got stuck. The homeowner didn't know he was there until he lit the fireplace and the burglar started calling for help. I wrote a story involving a scene similar to that, "Christmas Surprise." (It's available in my collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even.) That story was fun. The real life story, not so much.

  5. So THAT is why Santa's cheeks are red.

  6. True crime shows are a bit weird to me and not for the obvious reasons. I can't quite handle having actors play real people while they restage these crimes in the real location. Watching a movie version of the same thing is a little easier even if most of the time they are making up what went on, too, since the guilty and the dead won't be telling the story.

    But we did watch a crime documentary on TV after Richard's sister said an upcoming show was about a cousin of theirs. It was on Dateline or Deadline about an FBI guy who killed his wife. He said he did it in self-defense. We watched the interviews and even the FBI guy tell how his soon-to-be ex-wife attacked this FBI agent and he just had to kill her.

    The prosecution noticed he wasn't wearing his gun when he had lunch with his girlfriend at a burger joint right before he killed the wife with that gun. He strapped it on as he went into his house. Another forensics witness said the wife was on the floor when a few of the shots got her.

    There was a hung jury the first time the case went to trial. He was acquitted in the next trial. Richard's cousin was the dead wife. We did not expect the guy to get off. That's another reason I don't like non-fiction crime. I want the bad guy to go down for his crime. Maybe his story was true. Not if I had been on the jury.

  7. How far would somebody go? Pretty damned far. Push just about anyone on the right button, in the right way, and you could get a murderer, a thief an embezzler, etc. Sexual crimes, not so much - from what I've seen sexual criminals are pretty much born that way. But you can get almost anybody to steal, if they're hungry enough or, as Barb said, if their child needs medicine, and you can get almost anybody to kill if their child is threatened.

    I don't do much of real crime shows, myself, but then I volunteer down at the pen, and I hear a lot of stories.

  8. This is a great post. I didn't know about discovery I'd but lately I've been watching some real life crime shows docudrama style and they're planting some whacky ideas in my head for stories.
    Will be checking out discovery I'd now, especially a few of those titles that popped out at me.

  9. Barb, I think the way you show how things can escalate really rings true. Plus people also act out of emotion and then it’s too late. And the other day, I posted a link and pic of that guy who got stuck in the chimney. Your story was prescient. And how cool to have narrated one of those shows. That must have been fun...sort of. :)

    And Gayle, I know what you mean about the re-enactments and all of that. I think when these shows started they’d just to a limited amount of acting and more interviews or news footage. But now they seem to have turned into full blown productions. And how weird to have one of these shows be about someone you know. Wow. And it is better, of course, when the badguy does go down for the crime.

    Eve, your line about pushing the right button in the right way and you can get almost anyone to embezzle or rob or even murder, reminds me of a line in a Clash song I’m sorry to say: “I been very tempted, To grab it from the till, I been very hungry, But not enough to kill.” But I guess some people will go to the point of killing. And, of course, some will murder over virtually nothing, like a parking space. And I would imagine that you get your fill of real crime with your volunteer work. That would be enough for me.

    Thanks, Lisa. Some of those titles are amazing, aren’t they? But I have to warn you, you might become addicted. :)

  10. This is a great post. I didn't know about discovery I'd but lately I've been watching some real life crime shows docudrama style and they're planting some whacky ideas in my head for stories.
    Will be checking out discovery I'd now, especially a few of those titles that popped out at me.


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